My name is Emmanuel Obadjere, a Reverend Father with the Catholic Church. It was indeed a horrible experience. An experience you wouldn’t even wish your bitterest enemy to go through. We thank God for miraculously shielding us from the barrage of bullets fired at us.
We had set out that fateful day of November 6 en-route Uhiele-Ekpoma, in company of nine other priests. Two priests to a vehicle.
These priests had come from different dioceses across Nigeria for our annual class meeting. Warri Diocese was the host for this year. It was a special session as this year’s get-together marked our tenth priestly anniversary.
So, we were to finish up with the meeting and go to Ekpoma for the annual Alumni get-together during which the entire seminary community customarily celebrates any class that clocks 10 years in the Lord’s vineyard.
It was the hour of Divine Mercy and we were just rounding off the prayers in the car I was in. We had just passed Umutu and ascending the railway line (between Umuto and Urhonigbe) when it happened.
A group of bandits suddenly jumped onto the road and started firing at us. In the confusion that ensued some of us escaped but with their damaged cars. But the car I was in (I joined a priest) rammed onto the car in front of us. Both cars became demobilised.
It turned out we had just run into an ambush by Fulani herdsmen on a kidnap mission. They released volleys of automatic gun fires at our cars leaving frightening gashes in the cars but not one bullet hit any of God’s children.
It was a miracle. God deflected those deadly bullets with a command: “Touch not my anointed and do my prophet no harm” (1Chrn. 16:22; Psalm 105:15)
I became thankful to God that we survived the surprise gun attack and were alive. Alive to be kidnapped. We were abducted by these gun-totting Fulani herdsmen who looked less than human from their rough clothings on skins that had not felt water for God knows how long!
We spent four days with these savages roaming in the bush around Umutu – a large farmland Eastward stretching to Abavo. The disused railway line was their compass and their sleeping point at fall of night.
They marched us round in constant motion in the day time like they march their cows in search of grass to graze. We were not kept in any one place like a hide out. It was a tiring experiencing to be constantly on the move to and fro throughout the day. And at night fall we were marched to railway lines where we spent the nights!
They were brutal, anti-God and got infuriated at every moment of prayers. But they assured that they had no intentions to kill us. They spoke a type of pidgin English you could hardly recognise as English. Otherwise, they spoke Fulfude. All they wanted was money. Money which they repatriate to the North of Nigeria for financing terrorist activities there. They were most unfriendly and communicated with us menacingly.
They demanded telephone numbers of our relations or anyone who could give them money for our release. My phone was in the car so I could not give them any numbers. The few numbers we could remember off hand, we gave to them but each time they called any of these numbers, what they got was abuses and curses.
“You think you can kidnap priests and go scot-free? God will punish you and your entire tribe”.
They were a very co-ordinated group with superb reconnaissance network. They were constantly on the phone as they were regularly being updated by their fellow herdsmen in front where we headed or behind where we are coming from. Make no mistakes about it – the herdsmen who parade our lands with cows are all a part of a well-organized network involved in all manner of sinister activities including intelligence gathering.
For the four days we were held captives, we neither had anything to eat nor drink since we were just roaming in the bush with no contacts whatsoever with the world outside. It was so bad that one of us had started fainting and the remaining three of us had the extra responsibility of supporting him to stand and continue with the march.
On their part, whenever we got to a cassava farm, they uprooted cassava which they ate raw like that. They drank water from whatever source. I am sure these guys knew nothing about hygiene or any form of health risks.
At some point it became obvious that they were afraid our colleague who could no longer withstand the physical stress would die. And they didn’t want that to happen. They started showing some signs of concern. The chains of anger started falling off as in the days of Paul and Silas in prison.
God started turning them to become friendly and on the last night we spent with them, God caused them to start serving us. They washed our cassocks, dried and prepared fire to warm us. This was the second miracle.
Then our dramatic release the next day, Friday, was another miracle. They had become hopeless about raising any money from us. They marched us up to a junction and told us to choose which way we wanted to go so that they would take the opposite way. We had no idea where we were but we randomly chose one of the paths and they allowed us to go while they moved in the other direction.
It was God alone who saved us from the lions’ den. Government was nowhere in the equation. In fact, while it lasted, my president traveled to France for a peace meeting.
And my Governor kept believing the false reports of the police that they were on top of the matter. He, too, demonstrated that he couldn’t careless.
Even in war torn Syria, Iraq, Somalia, that would not be the response. As I write this, nobody in government has reached any of us to ask how we regained freedom. But that is a matter for another day.
I look forward to more miracles on this particular incident. To the eternal, infinite (immensus), and unchangeable, incomprehensible, almighty and ineffable God be glory and praise forever and ever.